Dum Dum Girls: How Dee Dee's looking to a bright future
As she prepares to play Belfast, the frontwoman of the cutting edge garage band tells Edwin Gilson about moving on musically following her mother's death
As Dum Dum Girls' third album Too True was hitting the shops in January, singer and driving force of the group Dee Dee Penny released a statement that suggested all had not been well in her life.
The San Franciscan-turned-New Yorker wrote she had endured a "confused, difficult and disastrous" few years, and indicated her desire for a fresh start. Now, speaking down the line from California after a performance at Coachella festival, Penny reveals the true, tragic extent of her recent troubled times.
"I was feeling excited about life, and then I found out that my mother had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer," she says. "I watched her die for a year. That had severe ramifications on every part of my life, and I didn't deal with it well. It was an all-consuming problem. After some time, though, I managed to slowly move away from the aftermath. When I sat down to write this new album, I felt open to everything again."
For Penny, dealing with the grief of this loss meant physically moving away; from the West Coast, where she founded Dum Dum Girls, to New York. As the singer points out, her four-piece garage rock band, who play at the Black Box next week as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, have frequently been labelled a 'West Coast' act. "But I don't feel like my music fits into any geographical classification at all," states Penny. "People have also said that we sound like we came out of Brooklyn, so you can't really trust what people say. I'm from San Francisco; I've never lived in Brooklyn!"
With "everything falling out from under me", Penny ditched her house and belongings and "took the fairly rash decision" to head to the Big Apple. "I recognised that my family were trying to move forwards after the traumatic event, but at first I was very concerned about staying near them and making sure we all recovered as a group. After a while though I slowly realised everyone was moving forward in their own unique way. We weren't growing away from each other, but I realised that we didn't need to all hold hands in the way I initially thought we did. So, eventually, I saw my opportunity to go elsewhere."
Taking inspiration from Suede, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the "many colourful, inspiring female musicians who I've respected since I was 10", Penny holed up in her Manhattan apartment and began work on Too True. Very soon, however, she realised her voice was "destroyed" from heavy touring. "I had literally no other option other than to take some time off," says Penny. "I did rehabilitation work on my vocal chords for almost a year, and I'm definitely in a better place now. Now singing actually feels how it's supposed to feel; effortless."
The band's Belfast gig has an extra layer of intrigue about it as the support band Crocodiles are fronted by Brandon Welchez, Penny's husband. "We don't actually play on the same bill very often as it's quite difficult to make it logistically happen," laughs the singer. "So this gig is a rarity! We're so excited to share the same stage in the same city. I can't wait!"
Penny is also embarking on a collaborative side-project with Welchez, called Haunted Hearts, which she is excited about. Her prolific work-rate has no doubt helped her to "break through the period of trauma" she has suffered and, given her recent loss, her final words of our chat are additionally heartening: "The future is bright."
Dum Dum Girls play The Black Box, Belfast, on Thursday, May 8. For details, visit www.cqaf.com